As Good As It Gets

A BOOK charting the achievements and reflecting upon Saints’ all conquering team of 2006 has gone on sale this week.

Drawing heavily upon the thoughts of Coach Daniel Anderson and the reflections of conditioner Apollo Perelini, and players Paul Wellens, Jon Wilkin, Ade Gardner and James Roby As Good As It Gets – The Story of St Helens Grand Slam Class of 2006 covers the whole of that tumultuous season.

Written by the St Helens Star’s senior sports writer Mike Critchley, the volume is a celebration of the team that took out every pot and award available, both team and individual and alternates between monthly chapters, reports and interviews he carried out during the course of that season and analysis gathered this year.

Daniel Anderson’s star-studded team lost four games during the course of a grueling 35 match season – taking out the Challenge Cup, League Leaders Shield.

Even in defeat the deficits were a mere 2, 1, 2 and 4, the latter being conceded by a team packed with juniors in Catalan.

To underline their superiority, to write a postscript to 2006, in the subsequent World Club Challenge at Bolton they saw off Wayne Bennett’s Brisbane Broncos featuring Darren Lockyer, Darius Boyd and Petero Civoniceva the following February.

Any conversation about the 2006 season invariably switches immediately to the sublime skills of ace Australian centre Jamie Lyon; the man with that magic ingredient, that special X-Factor, his swivel of the hips, step and then flick out an audacious offload to a grateful Ade Gardner. But the achievements of Daniel Anderson’s class of 2006 were about much more than the classy contribution from the Saints’ second Wizard of Aus.

There are so many other iconic images from that campaign still so vividly engrained on the memory. Take Jon Wilkin, sporting a bandage to stem the bloodflow from a badly broken nose, blowing a kiss to the crowd after scoring his second try in the Challenge Cup Final win.

Or Paul Anderson providing the coup de grace against Leeds by calmly hoofing over a touchline conversion, turning round to see the Popular Side going absolutely doolally.

And how many snapshots of sheer brilliance did Sean Long provide, particularly in his dominant cup final display which saw him take out the Lance Todd Trophy for a record breaking third time.

Ade Gardner had a wow of a season in 2006, and his spring-heeled attack of Long’s crossfield kick to collect and touch down to help clinch the title underlined that perfectly.

And who could forget Vinnie Anderson creasing Wigan’s Danny Tickle in half with that thunderous tackle, and then stand over him triumphant like a victorious gladiator; great imagery from an outstanding year of achievement for the men in the red vee.

It was a year that spoilt Saints fans rotten, and just to cap it all Joe Public voted them BBC Sports Personality team of the year to howls of anguish from middle England. It certainly put St Helens on the map, and underlined what the town continues to be really good at – producing and nurturing world class rugby league footballers. The playing fields of Blackbrook, Portico, Clock Face, Thatto Heath, Haydock, Bold, Haresfinch and Pilkingtons have provided a steady stream of players to the pro game.

Admittedly, the Saints club have always cast their net even wider, regularly trawling the world to bring in key players to complement those homespun stars. And so they did in 2006 with a melting pot of Samoans, Kiwis, Aussies and Tykes, combining with born and bred Sintelliners to stunning effect.

The class of 2006 was arguably the most effective and clinical playing machine ever assembled under the eyes of the salary cap monitors. On and off the field, the club had strengths everywhere and was one at ease with itself, with all pulling in the same direction, starting with the chairman.

Eamonn McManus backed the coach’s judgment and paid for Daniel Anderson’s shopping bill – bringing in the players to execute the master plan. Obviously, Anderson had to coach them – and manage those big egos and huge characters – but he did so masterfully.

With skipper Paul Sculthorpe plagued with a knee injury for most of the year, Anderson placed a lot of faith in two players of rare talent – Keiron Cunningham and Sean Long, and that pair repaid him in spades in 2006.

Published by Vertical Editions As Good As It Gets is on sale at the Saints Superstore priced £11.99

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